Piper is 17 months old, and good decisions aren’t her forte. She knows she’s not supposed to dig in the yard, but the dirt is so dig-able. She knows she’s not supposed to rip her beds to shreds, but, yeah, we average a new bed every seven weeks.
At least three times a week Piper sits in what I call the Cry For Help Corner, near the couch, and chomps as loudly as she can. This is our sign that she has snapped up a small item that does not belong to her. Before you question why there are small items for her to snap, I’m going to stop you. I have kids. The end.
Piper T. (the T is for Trouble) sits there and chomps until I notice her. Every time it goes a little like this:
“Piper, what do you have?”
Dog lies down and looks sorry-ish. I kneel down, and dog teeth tighten around the contraband.
“Open up, girlfriend.”
Dog does not willingly open up. I pry open her jaws, and remove a Lego, or part of the Little People nativity, or an army man. Today, it was an outlet cover that I forgot to replace after vacuuming yesterday. So much for blaming the kids.
This process, annoying though it is, never fails to make me laugh. This dog knows better. She knows she is not supposed to chew the treasure she scarfed off the floor. She knows, but she cannot stop herself. The temptation is too strong.
I can’t get mad at Piper. To be angry at the dog for giving in to the siren call of Lego men would make me a hypocrite.
I spend huge chunks of time fighting my own siren calls. Whether it’s lurking around on Facebook for more minutes (hours?) than necessary, or eating a(nother) doughnut, I know what is and isn’t good for me, and I don’t seem to care. My jaws are clamped tightly around my personal outlet covers.
I did a Google search on Why do we do things that we know are bad for us? There were 1,290,000,000 results in 4.8 seconds. I’ll be honest, I only read half… of one article. But it’s clear that I’m not the only one wondering about this.
Truthfully, I read several whole articles, and it seems that we humans are not bright. You can arm us with facts and figures, but we’re only going to take away from those facts and figures what we want to take away. We twist and turn the statistics to suit our needs. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer. Not everyone who drinks and drives has an accident. Not everyone who saves back copies of the newspaper ends up on Hoarders. Certainly, we are in the not everyone contingent.
An article by Susan McQuillan in Psychology Today claims all of these bad decisions that lead to bad habits are impossible to fully shake.
“For one thing, once a habit is established, you will never completely ‘unlearn’ it. You can stop overindulging, you can pointedly replace bad habits with better ones, but every habit you’ve ever picked up is there, somewhere in your neural network, just waiting to be rediscovered,” says McQuillan.
Fabulous. But it’s not all bad news. Even though those negative habits linger, oh, forever, we can work hard to write over that file. We can arm ourselves with coping mechanisms, and learn to redirect our brains.
In a 2009 New York Times opinion piece, Noreena Hertz says that we are wired to optimism, which is why we assume we’ll be the one positive statistic in a world of less than good news.
“The dangerous allure of the information we want to hear is something we need to be more vigilant about,” she says.
Hertz concludes that we need to “actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good,” so that we can acknowledge all sides of an issue, or a bad habit. What does that mean? It means you have to not only accept the bad news, you have to continually remind yourself of that bad news. Smoking does cause cancer. Drunk driving is dangerous. I’m never going to read all these newspapers and they are a fire hazard.
Piper, I suppose, is wired to optimistically believe that one day, just maybe, I’m going to say, “Oh, that Lego? That one, you can eat.” She’s not engaging in realistic self-talk, such as, “I have my own toys and chewing on Legos is inappropriate.”
I am wired to think I can still eat like I am 20, or waste hours on social media without ramifications. I choose to fool myself, because it’s happier in Bad Decisionville. There are doughnuts in Bad Decisionville. People there work no more than 37 minutes each day and still manage to meet all of their deadlines. I’m not accepting the truths that I know.
It’s hard to say whether my Google search and subsequent knowledge makes me feel better about my bad decisions. I feel like I’m not alone, and now know there are science-y reasons for my failures. So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice, as Carl Spackler says.
Understanding why I do stupid things, however, does not take away the frustration I feel after – and sometimes during – the doing of the stupid things. Being human is so lame. Yet, what’s the alternative? Perfection, and a world in which everyone makes the right decision every time.
No, thank you. Piper and I will keep our quirks and continue to make some questionable choices. Making the occasional not-so-fabulous decision is, after all, a symptom of the human condition. Apart from shaking hands with Jesus, there is no cure for that condition, so there’s no point in fighting it.
Sure, I am going to work on making better decisions. I cannot keep eating the doughnuts. Simply cannot. I’m not going to beat myself up when I slip, though, because it’s just science and brain stuff.
Now as for Piper, and whether she’s going to accept her pre-wired brain while trying to make a few better decisions, I can’t say. She can’t say, either. Because she’s a dog and does not talk.